The Western Esoteric Traditions (Part 9)

My summer reading from 2021 has morphed into winter reading in 2022 as I press forward with The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction by Nicholas Goodrick – Clarke (Oxford University Press – 2008). 

In this series of blog posts, I’m tracing the Western Esoteric traditions through history, with particular attention paid to the contribution of these traditions to the work of Carl Jung. 

Contemporary with Jacob Boehme’s work, the last post’s subject, Rosicrucianism, was taking shape in German-speaking lands in the early 17th century. It would evolve over the next four centuries to heavily interface with Jung’s work and spawn the solid middle-class fraternal order of the Freemasons and the more bohemian Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. 

What better way to catch people’s attention than a combination of widely flouted manifestos and a secret fraternity possessing lost knowledge from centuries past? That’s just what Rosicrucianism offered in spades. 

The first manifesto, Fama Fraternitatis, was published in 1614. It purported to relate the life and times of a particular Christian Rosenkreutz, who, in the 14th century, travelled through Egypt and Arabia, assembling lost biblical legends and ancient Hermetic lore with help from wise men who’d been waiting for his arrival. Rosenkreutz’s next stop was the Mediterranean Coast of North Africa to Fez, where he studied magic and the Kabbalah.

At last, our hero travelled to Spain to spread the word. Unfortunately, the scholars there weren’t having it, so Rosenkreutz (also known as Brother CR) returned to Germany and started the Fraternity of the Rosy Cross, whose members used alchemical learning to cure the sick for free. Finally, Brother CR died, more or less, and wasn’t heard from again until – with great fanfare – his burial vault, a grand cache of lost learning accompanied by his uncorrupted body clutching a book, was unearthed a century later.

This led to increased interest in ‘transfiguration’, or the individual’s achievement of quasi-divine status and powers through transforming his human body into a semi-spiritual condition.

Jung was deeply interested in Rosicrucian thought, practice, and teachings. Many references to these can be found in his Collected Works.

One such reference relates to Jung’s concept of ‘amplification’, or the use of mythic stories and images to gain a deeper understanding of symbolism. In Volume 9 (Part 1) – The Phenomenology of the Spirit in Fairytales, he discusses how Rosencreutz’s Chymical Wedding (an allegorical tale of a royal marriage brimming with alchemical symbolism) demonstrates the way unconscious processes compensate for the limitations inherent in our conscious lives, especially in regards to spiritual development.

The second Rosicrucian manifesto, Confessio, was different. A statement of faith, this manifesto was published along with a learned analysis of the Hermetic work of John Dee and Edward Kelly. At the same time, this manifesto declared the Roman Pope to be the Antichrist.

The destruction of the Pope by “the new voice of a roaring lion (from the North),” a strong millenarian and apocalyptic element of Confessio, is a theme Jung would later take up at some length in conjunction with the coming New Age, which according to Liz Greene (Jung’s Studies in Astrology, (Routledge, 2018) pp- 151-176), is an astrologically defined epoch associated with the constellation of Aquarius.

Jung believed a radical shift in human consciousness would characterise this new age: self-awareness would become the equivalent of God-awareness.

Jung was under no illusion this process would be other than ugly. At least initially, it would entail extremes of splitting and polarising (perhaps not unlike what we’re seeing in the Western world today) that would force us to internalise ideas of good and evil (which is a reality unto itself) rather than projecting them outside. We will no longer need God to protect us from evil; we must do it ourselves. For that, we must know God in a new, more interior way, becoming, in some sense, not unlike Nietzsche’s Übermensch or Superman from Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Eventually, as predicted by Dee and Kelly, this will lead to the end of Christianity and the Pope (the Antichrist) in Rome as head of its Church.

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science and Thus S

In his work entitled Aion, Jung chose to represent this portentous moment with a Roman sculpture of Mithras, portrayed as a winged lion-headed man holding a staff and a key enveloped in the coils of a serpent.

Jung wasn’t the only one to convey this message:

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

The Second Coming, WB Yeats

(to be continued)

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